Distinguished Alumni Award

2024 Distinguished Alumna: Nona Yehia ‘89

Alumni Weekend Nona and Tom at podium

We were honored to recognize Nona Yehia ‘89 as our 2024 Distinguished Alumna during Alumni Weekend on May 17 & 18, 2024.

Nona is a passionate advocate for local food and a pioneer in controlled environmental agriculture (CEA). She co-founded Vertical Harvest in 2016 as a way to bring fresh produce to communities. 

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An accomplished architect with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s from Columbia University, Yehia designed the Vertical Harvest greenhouses to grow “up” (instead of out). Completed in 2016, the company’s facility in Jackson Hole, WY, was the first vertical greenhouse in North America. The three-story greenhouse sits on just a tenth of an acre but can produce as much food as five acres of traditional farmland. 

Earlier this year, it was announced that Vertical Harvest will bring CEA to Detroit. In partnership with Bedrock, the company will build a 60,000 sq. ft. facility in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction neighborhood. Slated to open in 2025, the 74-foot-tall farm will use 95% less water than traditional farms and produce around 2.2 million pounds of fresh vegetables and greens year-round. Seventy percent of that produce will stay local, being distributed within 100 miles of Detroit to schools, hospitals, restaurants, and local grocery markets.

A key priority for Yehia and Vertical Harvest is inclusivity. The company strives to create inclusive, customized employment opportunities for people with physical or intellectual disabilities. At the Jackson facility as well as the new Maine and Detroit facilities, 40% of positions will be reserved for people with disabilities and those needing career growth assistance.

Yehia has received national recognition for her work. She was named a CNN Champion of Change, and Vertical Harvest has twice been named a finalist for Fast Company's Best Places to Work for Innovators. Learn more about Vertical Harvest here

See photos from the 2024 Distinguished Alumna Award Ceremony > 

Friends and family congratulate Nona on her Distinguished Alumna Award!

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest alumni honor given at University Liggett School. Established in 2009, University Liggett School's Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes a living alumna/us for their leadership, professional achievements, civic contributions, within their local community, the state or nation, service to University Liggett School, and/or other qualities that elicit pride from others who attend University Liggett School.

Previous Recipients

2023 Honoree: Adam Levinson '88, Investment Professional and philanthropist

2022 Honoree: Lisa Black '77, Investment Professional and philanthropist

2020 Honoree: Kristen Feemster '91, Vaccine Researcher 

2019 honoree: John D. Evans ’62 GPUS, C-SPAN co-founder  

2018 Honoree: Keith Richburg ‘76, Washington Post foreign correspondent 

2017 Honoree: Stanley W. Bryant ’64 GPUS, Retired Rear Adm. 

2016 Honoree: Richard Baron '60 GPUS, Businessman

2015 Honoree: Denise Ilitch '73, Businesswoman

2014 Honoree: Bill Shelden ’68 GPUS, Businessman

2013 Honoree: Nita Stormes '72, Federal magistrate judge 

2012 Honoree: Miles O'Brien '77, Broadcast news journalist 

2011 Honoree: Gretchen Valade '45 CDS, Carhartt heir 

2010 Honoree: Ralph Wilson '36 DUS, Founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills 

2009 Honoree: Jeffrey Eugenides '78, Pulitzer Prize-winning author 

Learn more about our
Previous Recipients >